Thursday, May 26, 2011

Riding with the Daishi: The Shikoku Pilgrimage - Kagawa

四国巡礼 - 香川県

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Kagawa starts out insanely awesome, quickly turns to boring, takes a bite out of your wallet, and ends on a high note. What is going on here?

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I think insanely awesome is a good description. There were hundreds of these guys. 500 to be exact. I didn't count. These are Rakan, disciples of Buddha who have achieved enlightenment.

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Holler!

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I spent a long time at this one. First, driving there was a bit out of the way. There is a remote mountain road leading to this temple. There is also a shiny new ropeway that is practically connected to the next temple in the circuit. Convenient. Since the ropeway was overpriced, I chose the scenic route. Always choose the scenic route. Second, this temple is just great. The general temple-y-ness of the place is top notch. The whole place is like a well maintained bonsai tree. And obviously I was sidetracked by the Rakkan.

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Down the mountain, and up another.

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Ancient ruins of a... Hi-C machine? Everyone was taking pictures with their cell phones.

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Enjoy you nightmares kids!

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Figs I think. Yes, each fruit is individually wrapped while on the tree. Expect to pay for it at the department store. It's a Japan thing.

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This temple has an interesting story. At the age of 7, Kukai climbed this mountain and yelled, "Hey Shaka Nyorai! If this shit ain't for me, let me die!" Then he jumped to his death. But wait! Shaka appeared and saved him. Didn't see that one coming.

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The pilgrimage is full of wacky stories about Kukai. At one temple, he carved the main deity statue with his fingernail. At another, a murderous woman's pilgrimage was ended when her hair became caught in some rope. Best part, you can see the actual hair in question. Gross? Rad? You be the judge.

Actually, almost every temple has a story behind it. Even though the circuit is limited to 88 temples, there are hundreds that have at least a minor connection to Kukai. Maybe the 88 were chosen for their stories.

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Cheese!

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"Visiting this spot if forming a special relationship with the Daisi". Special, you can see, was an edit. What was there before? I like using my favorite word. And yeah, I did form a rad relationship with the Daisi.

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Suddenly, after some nice mountains, the temples of Kagawa get very boring. Very, very boring. There are about 10 in a row that are all like this, just sitting in the middle of town, next to factories and telephone wires. Some are just a few hundred meters from each other. And they are all along the main road, which is full of trucks and traffic and pachinko parlors.

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I'm sure back in the day, a thousand or so years ago, it was a different picture altogether. This would have been the fertile farmland of the Sanuki Province (ancient name of Kagawa prefecture), and a stroll through might have been akin to the wanderings of a ronin samurai, full of chance meetings and mystery. But now... traffic and trucks and pachinko.

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Only a handful of temples left. Ending everyday at 5pm gives you a bit of free time. I took the chance to drive around Takamatsu. Like most port cities, it's seedy.

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I decided to camp as close to the next temple as I could. Luckily there was a henro hut that fit the bill. I didn't have the 411, but here is a list of all these huts. Technically, they are just for taking a break, but no one really cares if you sleep in them.

Cool point, it's covered so you don't need to pitch a tent in the hypothetical rain.

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At about 3am I rolled off the bench. And no one saw me. It was embarrassing nonetheless.

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Kagawa kitties.

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Nice morning views. The bridge there connects Shikoku with Okayama, rising above the Seto Inland Sea. The Seto Inland Sea has no waves, and is almost as calm as a lake.

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My last day went by in a blur. Suddenly I found myself cleansing my hands in one of the last temples of my journey.

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Here's a tip, visit an ATM before you start this leg.

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600+ yen just to drive up to temple #84. They have the gall to call this toll road a ドライブウェイ, driveway. Like it's some sort of fancy shit to some stately whatnot.

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You paid the $6, then you gotta pay another $5 for this museum. Sorry culture, you just got nexted.

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Later, at the next temple... no cars or motorcycles allowed? Why not?

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Cause they want you to ride the $10 cable car. I walked up. It sucked. You should really take off your heavy motorcycle jacket if you plan on hiking for an hour.

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Kukai would not approve. Or would he? Back in his day he was appointed to all sorts of government task forces. Something about building a dam or resevoir. Anyways, some dude who builds stuff for the emperor is probably rolling in yen.



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No trip to Kagawa would be complete without some Sanuki Udon noodles. It is said that Kukai himself brought the recipe over from China.

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Does anyone remember the udon eating scene from Dead or Alive 2? Everytime I eat kitsune udon I think of that.

This shop was good, but I couldn't tell much of a difference in this sanuki udon from the sanuki udon shop near my house in Tokyo. Ramen!!!!

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Oh snap!

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I'm at temple #88!

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Proof! Take a seat haters. I'm meant to take my stamp book to My. Koya, the spot of Kukai's eternal meditation, in the future and get one more stamp. Definitely something I will do. But for now I'm happy with my souvenir. An expensive souvenir. Every stamp costs 300 yen. Times 88. That's around $300 for something that you don't really do anything with.

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The drive to #88 is smooth and long, ascending the mountains that make a natural border between prefectures.

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This last bit represents nirvana. Had I achieved enlightenment during my days circling the island? Naw. A devout practitioner might say that my lazy attitude towards the whole thing was my first mistake. I didn't study Kukai's teachings, didn't go through the lengthy ritual at each temple, didn't spend a few months walking. But what I did do was have a pretty cool Golden Week vacation. The footsteps of the Daishi were just a starting point.

My Recommended Temples

So you want to check out some temples in Shikoku? And you ride a motorcycle? But you don't wan't to visit all 88? Here are my top 10 picks to check out.

遍路ころがし - Translated as the places where "the pilgrim falls down", these are the ones high in the mountains. #12, 20, 21, 27, 60, 66, 81, and 82 all fall into this category. You'll be far from the cities, breathing fresh air, at one with nature.

金剛福寺 - #38, Kongofukuji, is the one at the southern tip. It's a bit touristy, but once you are past the bus routes it's gorgeous country.

石手寺 - #51, Ishiteji, is right next to Dogo Onsen. It has a lot of temple type stuff to see, and a lot of wicked dragon statues.

6 comments:

Hachi said...

zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, where zen was born. omoshiroi.

Mr. S. said...

Udon, meh. I don't get it either. On the other hand, you can't get your ramen 'bukkake'!!

thesoybean said...

i enjoyed this series of posts a lot...have read/heard about the pilgremage and it's nice to see some pics of it...

Anonymous said...

What's the name of the temple with the Rakkan? It looks amazing.

Brian said...

Umpenji, I believe. #66

Robert Thorne said...

How can sights like that ever be boring? I haven't seen that many stunning historical sites since I went on some jordan tours.